Why it was a close shave for Michael when it came to signing up for The Light Between Oceans
Love blossomed between Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander while the couple made post-war romance The Light Between Oceans. Now, with the movie set to woo cinema audiences too, they tell Susan Griffin whether they'd be tempted to live on an isolated island like their characters.
Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander fell in love while filming their new movie, a sweeping romance called The Light Between Oceans.
They're promoting the film together, but the famously private pair are not about to profess their lust for one another in public.
Not even Stephen Fry could cajole them into a cheeky peck for the roving 'Kiss Cam' at the Baftas in February; although Vikander did kiss Fassbender before accepting her Oscar for her role in A Danish Girl a few weeks later.
Today, sitting side by side, they make a good-looking couple. Fassbender in dark trousers and a green knit, Vikander in a Seventies-style blue and red wrap dress.
They clearly enjoy a laugh together, not least when Swedish-born Vikander (28) talks about training to play Lara Croft for the upcoming Tomb Raider shoot.
"I'm pumping iron at the moment," reveals the petite actress, pretending to flex her 'guns'. "I started full prep a couple of weeks ago and we start filming in the New Year."
Her background in ballet (she trained from age nine to 16) should come in handy for the stunt work, as many actors compare action scenes to honing dance routines.
"I hope so, because there's a lot of choreography to learn. I hope I'll be able to do some of the moves," she says.
Fassbender (39), tackled his own fight scenes for the upcoming Assassin's Creed, due for release in January.
He's a man known for throwing himself into every role with uncompromising passion, whether it's as convicted IRA member Bobby Sands in 2008's Hunger, sex addict Brandon in Shame, or slave owner Edwin Epps in 12 Years A Slave.
It's for that very reason Fassbender admits he needed a lot of persuading from Derek Cianfrance, the director of The Light Between Oceans, to live 24/7 on set in a remote part of New Zealand's South Island.
"I work back-to-back a lot, so I feel very much like I need my space and my time," he explains, in a soft Irish accent (Fassbender was born in Germany but moved to his mother's native Ireland when he was two. His mother Adele is originally from Larne). "I very much give whatever I've got to the 12, 14 hours a day of filming, but when it's wrap time, I go home, and I like to have that in a neutral space."
Just as Cianfrance called on Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling to live together for a month before they shot 2010's Blue Valentine, a gut-wrenching depiction of a relationship's disintegration, the film-maker wanted Fassbender and Vikander to set up home in their characters' house.
"I was so glad that didn't happen," says Fassbender, laughing.
Instead, he agreed to live in one of the small caravans brought to set.
"Derek's a passionate film-maker and I've got a huge respect for him.
"It was important to him, so I said, 'Absolutely, let's give it a shot'," he explains.
"After the first week, I didn't want to leave. It felt like such a treat and rare opportunity to stay in such a beautiful place and to experience it like that."
The film's an adaptation of the 2012 novel by ML Stedman, which has been translated into more than 35 languages since publication. The story centres on how Tom, a man shell-shocked by his experiences in World War One, looks for solace and solitude as a lighthouse keeper on the uninhabited Janus Rock, off the West Coast of Australia.
Although intending to remain alone, he meets Isabel, who's grieving for two brothers lost in the war. "I see Isabel as very strong, but also naive and vulnerable," explains Vikander, who's previously starred in 2012's Anna Karenina, alongside Keira Knightley, and 2015's The Man From UNCLE and Ex Machina.
"Like Tom, she's been through trauma and felt a great loss, yet somehow she still has this beautiful spark and so much fire, and that's why Tom gets completely thrown by her.
"She's a person who goes with her impulses for better and for worse. She has a tough journey in the film, but I was always drawn by her willpower and strength of spirit."
When love flourishes, they're swiftly married and move to Janus Rock together, relishing the isolation - although their attempt to start a family is met by tragedy.
One day, a rowing boat washes ashore, with a dead man and a baby girl, who's still alive, inside it.
Their decision to raise the baby as their own has shattering consequences, when Tom discovers her heartbroken mother, Hannah (Rachel Weisz), is on the mainland.
Fassbender sympathises with Tom's decision to go with his heart, despite his misgivings.
"It's a very particular time in their relationship, and that informs the decisions they make. There's also the fact they're so alone on the island.
"There's an awareness that what seemed like paradise could become a prison," he says.
Could they imagine living in the same sort of solitude as Tom and Isabel?
"For a while," offers Fassbender.
Vikander, the slightly more guarded of the two, is quick to move the conversation onto less personal territory.
"It was an extraordinary thing, experiencing that nature and the realisation of how big the world is and how small you are, that human relationship with nature," she says.
"Also, being away from technology makes a big difference. I've changed a bit over the last few years, and getting away to be closer to nature is something I've really started to enjoy more and more - but maybe not for four years like Tom and Isabel," Vikander adds.
Reflecting on the story, Fassbender believes one of the great themes "is the complexity of real life".
"Things happen in life, where you have to make a choice that has no simple right or wrong answer," he observes.
"The story's not about judging who is good and who is bad.
"It really is about how we deal with the outcomes of our choices, and to me that is what defines us as human beings."
- The Light Between Oceans is in cinemas now